Edward’s story


Another day at the warehouse done. He’s a clerk, so there’s always lots of paperwork to get through and it requires great attention to detail. He’s a conscientious and well-organised individual though, so he enjoys it and the satisfaction he gets when a job is done well. 

He’s off to the Trades Hall tonight for a large temperance society meeting. He’s got gradually more involved with the temperance movement in the last few years and he took the pledge some months ago. He’s seen what the drink has done to his Dad and his pals over the years. He knows that for most of them it’s a way of dealing with the past trauma of their lives and the continuing hardships they face, but he’s decided to take a different path. 

"New Plan of Glasgow with Suburbs…showing the distribution of Public Houses, Licensed Grocers" - John Bartholomew, 1884


His temperance meetings give his life structure, and social opportunities too. In fact, he recently met a young lady called Agnes at one of the socials and they’ve been out a couple of times since. He thinks there’s potential for something long term. He’s out a few evenings a week now. It gets him away from the house, means he’s not under his folks feet. The place is too small for all of them really, and when his Dad gets in that morose frame of mind of his it’s better to get out and leave him to it. 


He’s thinking of getting himself lodgings elsewhere, but he’s not sure he can afford it. He pays keep to his Mum every week and he knows she relies on it when it comes to the finally balanced household finances. There’s been hints that he’s in line for a promotion at work, so if that comes off he’ll maybe be able to manage it, as he’d be able to get himself a room somewhere and also keep a bit by for his Mum each week. 

It’s chilly tonight, and he’ll admit the pubs look warm and inviting as he makes his way past. Blasts of noise from people enjoying themselves and having a sing song punctuate the evening air as people make their way in and out of the various venues. Part of him would love to head through a set of those doors himself, to settle down and have a wee dram. That’s the problem though, you have one and then another follows, and before you know it things are getting rowdy and trouble starts. He’ll keep his pledge, and stay focused on his future. He’ll take refuge at his meeting instead. 



Jack S Blocker, in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History, notes that a parliamentary report on drink related arrests between 1831 and 1851 found “Glasgow was three times more drunken than Edinburgh and five times more drunken than London”. There was certainly no shortage of places to obtain alcohol- around this time its estimated there was one liquor outlet for every 150 people. At one point Saltmarket was home to no less than 28 wine shops. 

Entertainment venues like music halls were often attached to a public house and drinking was allowed during performances. The mixture of songs, comedy and circus acts would have been welcome escapism for the working classes, who were often living in very poor conditions and in exhausting employment. 


Concern at the level of drunkeness in society led to the beginnings of the Scottish temperance movement. Its founding father was John Dunlop of Maryhill. Dunlop had established an anti-drinks society in 1829, which rather than advocating for total abstinence, suggested renouncing strong or ‘ardent’ spirits and fortified wine in favour of lighter wine and beer. Dunlop was outspoken against the ubiquitous presence of whisky at social gatherings such as weddings and Hogmanay, and believed it to be a cause of national deterioration. 

The Scottish Temperance League at first relied on propaganda and education to try and change attitudes towards alcohol, rather than legislative prohibition. However, some later took a harder line, supporting the tightening of licensing laws and even prohibition. 


Those who joined the League were urged to make a pledge to abstinence in a church or at a temperance meeting. A report in the Glasgow Daily Herald on 16th February 1864 details the ‘bond of union’ for the Scottish Temperance League. “The League shall consist of such individuals as have already subscribed to the pledge of a total abstinence society requiring them neither to take nor give intoxicating liquors, or have adopted a pledge to that effect, and who annually subscribe to the funds of the League a sum not less than two shillings and sixpence”. Their stated objective was “the entire abolition of the drinking system”. Those who broke their promise would be named and shamed. 

In parallel to this a wholesome, drink-free culture was promoted. From the 1850s Abstainer’s Union concerts were popular and the Band of Hope provided social activities specifically for children. Tea rooms and coffee shops became an alternative to pubs. There were also temperance hotels, which aimed to provide people with the various amenities of a standard hotel, minus the alcohol. The Cranston family were well known temperance business owners. Robert Cranston had the first temperance hotel in Scotland, whilst Stuart Cranston had a chain of tea rooms. His sister Catherine later had several of her own tea rooms, the interiors of which were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 

Saltmarket from Bridgegate 1868, Thomas Annan. Image: Annan Photography, Glasgow
City of Glasgow Adult Total Temperance Association certificate. Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Museums, OG.2831
George Cruikshank, “Fearful Quarrels and Brutal Violence are the Natural Consequences of the Frequent Use of the Bottle,” 1847


  • Explore Sulman’s map and find out more about some of the places Victorian Glaswegians would have frequented to socialise and be entertained, such as the Theatre Royal, the Britannia Music Hall and the Horse Shoe Bar.  
  • Explore John Bartholomew’s “New Plan of Glasgow with Suburbs…showing the distribution of Public Houses, Licensed Grocers..” via the National Library of Scotland website.

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